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The Story of a Vase

Cass Bancroft hummed along to the music on her car radio. With a whole day free she was indulging herself. After a morning of pampering at the beauticians and a light lunch in her favourite Godalming restaurant, she was looking forward to an afternoon spent browsing the Dorking antique shops.

Turning left off West Street she stopped humming to concentrate on finding a parking slot in the small car park. Muttering a jubilant, “result” she slipped her car into the last vacant space, she considered the easy parking to be a good luck omen. Cass was confident it would be a good afternoon.

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Pauline North

Not that she was looking for anything in particular; she knew that hunting for – say an Arts and Crafts copper tray – would mean blinding herself to all the other beautiful things. No, an open-minded browse would be much more fun and, maybe, something irresistible would catch her eye.

An hour later and Cass was having a wonderful time. She had worked her way through one shop, feasting her eyes on the things she liked and dismissing the pieces she considered inferior.

She crossed the road to the place with the nice on-site café. She would spend a little while browsing before stopping for a pot of tea and a piece of cake. 

It was in one of the upstairs rooms where, in one of the display cabinets, she saw the vase. Sitting among a selection of pleasant, but not outstanding, china and porcelain the quality of that one special piece shone out and at first, Cass thought it was this that caught her attention.

Chinese, maybe Japanese, she speculated, taking a closer look. The colours were wonderful, a deep turquoise ground elegantly decorated in pale green and touches of delicate pink. Fine trailing vines twined round a length of bamboo. A gilded dragonfly hovered over an elegant leaf. Cass realised she had been holding her breath, she let it go slowly. ‘Oh, my goodness,’ she whispered to herself.

Tea, she must go for tea and sit for a while. Did she dare look at the price? When she did it surprised Cass to see that it came within her (provisional) self-imposed limit. Deep in thought she took the stairs down to the level with the café, she would go to look at the vase again after her tea and if she still felt the same, she would buy it.

The waitress carefully placed the pot of Earl Grey and the large slice of coffee and walnut cake on the table, all neatly arranged within easy reach, smiled and withdrew. 

As Cass lifted the first forkful of cake to her mouth, vaguely thinking of the wonderful cakes her aunt Mary made, she remembered where and when she had seen that vase before. Cass and James, her husband, had visited Mary recently, two Sundays ago in fact. She had given them one of her teatime specials, tiny neat sandwiches with three different kinds of homemade cake.

After that tea, while she and James were feeling too full and contented to move, Mary had brought out the family photos. She had collected together, tucked away in a box, a comprehensive record of the family history. She remembered the name of every dim and crumpled image and where each fitted into the family structure.
‘Look what I found tucked away in an old book, I had forgotten I even had this one.’ Mary said passing over a photo that was larger and clearer than a lot she had shown them. ‘This is Kath, taken at their house not long after the wedding.’

Aunt Kath, the family mystery and legend, Cass had seen photos of her before, as a younger woman, arm in arm with Mary, dressed in the fashions of the time. Two lovely, smiling girls striding it out along a seaside promenade.
This was a mature woman. Cass would put her in her early thirties, well-groomed and attractive. She was seated at a table in an elegant room, everything about her projected poise and confidence. Beside her on the table, clear in every detail, was the vase.

The jolt of recognition made Cass feel quite fluttery. She returned the fork with its mouthful of cake to the plate while she took some slow deep breaths to calm herself. When she felt better, she drank her first cup of tea then worked her way briskly through the cake and the second cup. She may have decided what she would do and she wanted to get it done as quickly as possible, but she was too frugal to waste a good tea.

As soon as she had finished and dabbed her mouth with the napkin she made her way to the desk, where she informed the assistant that she would like to buy a vase she had seen in one of the cabinets on the next floor.

Following the assistant up the stairs, Cass wished the woman would get a move on. She was suddenly anxious that someone else may have beaten her to it. No, it was still there. ‘I would like that one, please.’ She said pointing at the vase. 

The woman lifted the vase carefully from the cabinet and then the two of them walked back down to the desk where the vase was wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a brown paper carrier bag.

At last, having paid for her prize she had it in her hands. With great care, she carried the bag back to her car, wrapped it in the rug she kept on the back seat and rested it on the floor behind her seat.

On the way home Cass drove carefully, anxious about the precious object in the back. Once at home the vase was unwrapped and dusted, then it was placed in a position of honour on her sitting room unit.

For the rest of the afternoon, then again after dinner, she sat in her chair and ran through in her mind everything she knew about Aunt Kath.

Aunt Kath had been the oldest of four children; Cass’s father had been the youngest and the only boy. The family had lived on a farm in rural Hampshire. Beyond that Cass didn’t really know all that much about the family’s lives. What further information she had gleaned had been learned in dribs and drabs over the years by listening to her parents' conversations and asking questions.

Her father and Aunts Mary and Sarah had settled to marriage and conventional lives. Aunt Kath, though, had gone her own way. No one seemed very clear how she lived her life although it was known that as a very young woman, she had spent some time chauffeuring VIPs all over Europe. As a young girl Cass had gained the impression there was much more that was never discussed, not in front of her anyway.

At some time Kath had returned to London to work for a wealthy family, then, soon after she had married the son. There had been a glamorous church wedding and a reception in The Savoy.

Cass didn’t know how successful the marriage had been, she couldn’t recall anyone ever saying. She had only heard that one day, on a visit to Mary, having arrived in a bad mood, they had argued. Mary never knew if a minor family tiff had been the trigger but after Kath walked away that day no one, family or husband, ever saw her again.

They had searched for her of course. A private detective had been employed but got nowhere. Aunt Sarah’s husband, who was a detective in the metropolitan police, passed the word for everyone in the force to keep an eye open for her or for any suspicious deaths, nothing.

One rumour said that she had been acquainted with a notorious London murderer, so perhaps she had been another victim. There was another theory that perhaps she had moved back to live somewhere in Europe. 

Many years had passed with no sight or sound of aunt Kath but now Cass had a connection, something to bring back memories of a remarkable woman. She had found, in an antique shop in Dorking, the vase that had been on Kath’s table all those years ago.

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